Bach: Violin Concertos (DVD review)

Also, Double Concerto; Air on the G-String. Takako Nishizaki and Alexander Jablokov, violins; Oliver Dohnanyi, Capella Istropolitana. Naxos DVD 0991.

Labeled "A Naxos Musical Journey," this DVD music video from 2000 was among the first in a series of such productions from the company that had hitherto given us audio-only CDs.

But before I tell you what I think of the disc, let me make an introductory remark: A while ago I said to a friend that if it had not been for the advent of home-theater and surround sound, two-channel home stereo would be practically dead by now. What I was getting at was that in the old days a lot of people interested in music would sit in front of and between their two speakers and concentrate on the musical sounds coming at them. But I guess such people as we were, and still are, in a minority. From everyone I know come comments like, "How do you just sit and listen to music? Isn't that a little like meditation?" Most folks, it seems, attend to music while doing other things, sometimes not even in the same room with the music. So, for years even audiophiles would spend thousands of dollars on elaborate stereo setups and then hardly ever listen to them except, of course, to show them off to friends. Now that home theater has been with us for a good long time, people have a reason to listen attentively again. Namely, the movies they watch force them to sit in front of and often between their front speakers because that's where the TV is. And they no longer have to address the music alone; they have images to go with the sound. The world is happy.

Frankly, I still don't subscribe to this all-inclusive audiovisual theory, and I maintain two separate systems in my home: A two-channel stereo rig in the living room for music-only listening and a 7.1-channel surround-sound setup in a separate room for home theater viewing and listening. It is in this latter room that I auditioned the present crossover disc from DVD International and Naxos Records. Naturally, it combines music with pictures and does so in a relaxing audiovisual environment.

Takako Nishizaki
Although the music seems almost secondary to the imagery, for those interested Takako Nishizaki, Oliver Dohnanyi, and Capella Istropolitana present the Bach violin concertos in reasonably attentive if somewhat staid interpretations characteristic of the performances often recorded by Naxos. However, they are not the most lively, distinctive, or creative performances you'll find, meaning they are solid, middle-of-the-road readings, well matching the easygoing serenity of the visuals. The DVD's total running time is fifty-six minutes.

The disc offers an image in a 1.33:1 ratio, presenting a lovely pictorial survey of architecture and nature. The scenery is mostly from Italy--ancient Roman ruins, parks, palaces, interspersed with mountains, hills, valleys, vineyards, seas, bays, and such. The picture quality looks warm and inviting, sometimes quite beautiful. It sometimes looks very slightly blurred, too, but nothing to worry about, and there were a couple of instances of fluttering horizontal lines.

The audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, and DTS. In DD 5.1, the sound, recorded in 1989, is pleasant, a bit bright on my system but easily tamed, with a couple of occasional, extraneous bass rumblings. The rear channels hardly come alive, adding only a subtle ambiance appropriate to music reproduction. In any case, with music the listener should not actually notice the back speakers at all unless they're turned off. This is not an action movie we're listening to. Also, there is no narration on the disc, thankfully, just music and pictures, and an easy-to-use menu system allowing one to navigate quickly through the musical selections or the written travel notes. There is also an option to repeat certain chapters or play them randomly.

Now, I have to be perfectly frank with you here in saying that I found all the imagery superfluous.  Personally, I would still rather listen to a more imaginative interpretation of Bach by, say, Kuijken and La Petite Bande, Menuhin and the Bath Festival Orchestra, Grumiaux and the New Philharmonia, or Lamon and Tafelmusik than these. Then, closing my eyes and listening only, I can use my imagination to envision whatever I choose without the distracting pictures. OK, as I said before, I know I'm in a minority here.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa